Motherhood is one of the most transformative experiences anyone can undergo. Motherhood changes you–mind, body, and soul. Prior to becoming a mother myself, I’m not sure I fully understood what this entailed. Almost every single aspect of my life changed when I became a mother because you have this beautiful life that you are now responsible for–wild!
And yet, postpartum care, both physically and mentally, is absolutely lacking in our country. There’s no simple advice, guidance, or help navigating this time that is universally helpful to all. At the six-to-eight-week postpartum appointment, we are often simply examined and hopefully told all is well and that now we can “resume all activity”- namely sex. But here comes the tough part–sex (although some may argue this) is not solely a physical exercise. It involves a complex interplay of psychological, neurological, hormonal, and physical factors. I always tell my patients, “the absence of pain is not pleasure.” And that is, quite frankly, the truth. Simply because you can have sex, especially after becoming a mother, doesn’t mean that you actually WANT to. And this difference is very important.
There’s a multitude of factors that can cause mothers to feel disconnected from their sexuality: fluctuations in hormones, lack of sleep, anxiety that comes, etc. At any stage of motherhood, bodily changes can affect the way we embrace our sexuality, and often not in a positive way. Embracing sexuality at any stage in life is a multifactorial process and requires work just like any healthy long-lasting relationship requires work.
Sexual health is health. And embracing your sexuality as a mother constantly changes. It requires us to be attuned to our needs and wants, so we are able to harness this beautiful and empowered time to enhance our sexuality, not hinder it.
Keep in mind that sexual health is a combination of physiologic and psychological factors—a mind-body experience so to speak. If we approach embracing it with the same multi-factorial toolset, we will be well equipped to handle any and all changes.
Let’s get started.
1. Know thyself
What turns you on? How do you feel about yourself and your body? Answering these questions is the first step in understanding where you are emotionally and physically during this specific time. It may sound silly, but I always think of it like meditation. The first step is to always sit down and acknowledge your thoughts to see them for what they are. In the same respect, acknowledging where you are in terms of desire, connection, anxiety, and stressors is important in navigating not just sex but good sex. Unpack whatever sexual baggage you may have. Do you have certain self-made rules about sex that you want to re-evaluate? There is a social construct involved in understanding sex and often this can preclude us to stay in unhealthy habits and thoughts about sex and how it should be. A lot to digest, but important!
2. Make the time
Motherhood can be tumultuous, chaotic, and can leave you with little time to yourself. But understanding your sexuality can’t be rushed, and like other things in life it requires time. While there’s no optimal time for sex, studies suggest those that are sexually satisfied often live longer and have healthier lives, physically and psychologically.
So, make that time. Both for yourself and for your partner (if you have one), to have the opportunity to reconnect and explore how intimacy and connection constantly change and embrace that change to harness sexual wellness and satisfaction. One of the biggest hurdles during intimacy and sex is understanding how to utilize foreplay to build connection. Lubrication, arousal, and overall intimacy occur when we harness our time, listen to our bodies, and allow ourselves to unite with the sensual parts that may need more TLC–especially during large life changes like transitioning into motherhood.
3. Create a dialogue
You would be surprised at how empowering discussing your feelings and thoughts around sex can be–for yourself and for your partner. Often, we expect our partners should simply “know” how to satisfy us sexually but that’s not always the case. Sexual satisfaction is individualized and constantly changing, often an indication of our inter-dynamic changes. Open and honest communication is key. If we don’t know what we want, we can’t express what we want. With expression and communication comes connection. With connection comes intimacy. With intimacy comes pleasure in many forms. So don’t be afraid to open up.
4. Don’t be afraid to bring yourself pleasure
Often, knowing what we want (even sexually) involves first giving that love and pleasure to ourselves. Regaining our libido is an inside job and involves viewing ourselves as sexual beings first and foremost. Oftentimes due to changes in blood flow to the uterus, pelvic floor, and vagina, penetrative intercourse may not be doing the trick. Experimenting with different toys and types of stimulation both vaginally and to the clitoris may be helpful in regaining our desire for sex. Self -experimentation and exploration can often be the key to this. But, masturbation and self-exploration can be highly stigmatized, leading to less utilization. But I’m here to tell you that masturbation is an under-utilized tool (especially in women) for embracing sexuality and its changes.
5. Nourish yourself
There’s no doubt that nutrition not only affects body composition but also our libidos. Taking care of another human life is one of the most amazing things life has to offer, but that requires us to take care of ourselves first. What is often overlooked is that what and how we eat can be linked to a whole host of inflammatory cytokines that can affect our mood, weight, and energy levels.
Studies have shown that how we eat drastically affects how we think and view ourselves. Vegetables and lean proteins are great for increasing libido. Foods high in zinc are thought to be exceptionally helpful. Oysters, beef, pork, pumpkin seeds, and beans are also high in zinc! However, everything in moderation…. including moderation. Be careful with red meats. They are linked to hormonal imbalances and are known to increase inflammation in the body. Aim to reduce your intake to a maximum of one to two servings per week, and always choose organic or grass-fed meats when possible. Beets, berries, and green vegetables are high in antioxidants and can be very helpful in enhancing sexual drive and performance!
Moral of the story: food is important. We control our intake, and this can profoundly affect our quality of life. Understanding and implementing dietary modifications as an integral component of care is perhaps one of the most important things one can do for themselves–especially when we become mothers. Don’t underestimate the power of food!
6. Movement matters
Exercise has been shown to increase endorphins and these endorphins can be a powerful tool in helping to increase our libidos and enhancing sex. Exercise also helps to relieve stress and decrease cortisol levels which can be very helpful for interest, desire, and arousal. It has been said that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise 3-4 times a week can have an extraordinary effect on the rest of your day, jump-starting your metabolic engine and helping to balance your brain chemistry, blood sugar, and hormones. I always say sexual health is a marker of our overall health. It cannot and should not be ignored. Exercise helps to increase sexual function by increasing circulation throughout our bodies which is important for arousal and orgasm, in addition to increasing energy.
7. Use “tools”
Sex toys often get a bad rap, but they shouldn’t. Quite frankly, why should they? Play in every form helps to free the mind and establish connections between the mind and body we may not have known possible. Utilizing various toys can help in this process as well. It can take the pressure off you, it can take the pressure off your partner, but more importantly, it can help you access areas of your sexuality that you never knew were possible.
8. Seek care from your physician
There are areas of medical expertise and help that are important to harnessing sexuality. There are avenues of care that help those noticing changes in their sexuality–don’t be afraid to use them. There are also medications, tools, exercises, and even procedures that can help you embrace your sexuality at any stage of life–depending on the cause. Utilizing these therapies is important and shouldn’t be stigmatized or forgotten.
It’s important that we listen to our bodies as they are often telling us a lot. This also means understanding the relationship and psychology behind changes in sexuality during motherhood. The cumbersome process of embracing our sexuality during many different stages in life is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Embracing our sexuality, especially during motherhood, involves listening to ourselves. Our bodies are great educators. Part of this education involves accepting and harnessing the changes and transitions during all points in our lives and directly identifying how that can translate into tapping into our sexuality. Motherhood is very exciting in so many ways–let this be one of them.